Banned shahtoosh shawls have made a comeback in Jammu and Kashmir, say wildlife conservationists.
An official from a Delhi-based organisation involved in the shahtoosh trade survey said he had met at least 10 weavers who had not touched shahtoosh in years handling the wool recently.
For a single shawl, at least three highly endangered Tibetan antelope or Chiru need to be killed.
International trade in Tibetan antelope products was banned in 1975 under the UN Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, to which India is a signatory.
State chief wildlife warden A.K. Srivastava denied Chirus were being killed but said: “Weaving may be happening secretly; it’s difficult to completely rule it out. But we always take action in case of complaints.”
In October, the CBI had raided a five-star hotel in the Capital and seized 57 shahtoosh shawls from two persons who belong to Srinagar. “This was the biggest haul in the country, valued at over Rs 2.40 crore,” a CBI spokesman said.
“Our feeling is that the banned wool is still making its way into India. It is also possible that wool had been cached in earlier and is being weaved now,” Ashok Kumar, vice-chairman of the Wildlife Trust of India, told HT. Prices of raw shahtoosh wool are going up — between 30 and 50 per cent — another strong indication that production has increased, Kumar said.
“A new trend is that shahtoosh is now being heavily mixed with other wools, like Belgian and synthetic wool, and passed off as pure shahtoosh,” Kumar added.
Punjab is emerging as the new market from where the products are sent abroad, he said. With one shawl fetching well over $1,000 now, only few can afford it. Mixing can bring down its cost quite a bit.
Sources said the ban on shahtoosh has taken on political colours in Kashmir and authorities still lack the “will to crack down”. “The Indian Wildlife Act does not apply to the state. J&K has its own law. We can act only when they pass on information to us,” an official from enforcement directorate (northern region) said.
The WTI helps the Kashmir Handmade Pashmina Promotion Trust (KHPPT) provide alternative livelihood to former shahtoosh weavers in the Kashmir Valley, said Aniruddha Mookerjee, a KHPPT trustee.